Earlier on this week (let's be honest, yesterday) I made a desperate, last-minute beeline to the post office to send Easter gifts off to my various nephews. Once I got there, I realised I hadn't purchased cards for them (tardy and not very organised -- my fatal flaws) so I asked a postal worker to direct me towards the Easter cards.
She responded: "Orthodox Easter is not until the first of May."
Strange response indeed. Did I look Orthodox? Can one even look Orthodox? I certainly fall into the 'ethnic looking' category, being a first generation Australian -- but it struck me as a curious response given that what I considered 'my Easter' was just around the corner.
"Do you have Easter cards yet?" I probed. They did not.
What had I missed here? Were the majority of their clients Orthodox? Did I look Orthodox? Or did they simply not have any cards and so deflected in the best way possible?
The Easter conundrum continued -- my parents, Italian migrants, like to purchase Italian Christmas cakes, 'colomba', during this season. Really, a 'colomba' cake is a dove-shaped panettone with icing on top. Leave it to the Italians to repurpose panettone for another occasion. When they inquired about said colombe (plural of colomba) the shop assistant advised they didn't have 'ethnic' fruit in-store at the moment.
Hmm... what makes fruit 'ethnic' as such? Is it its original country of origin? And who, I wonder, are we to question fruits ethnicity to begin with?
Evidently, ethnicity and culture come into play when we talk about religious holidays, especially living in a multicultural nation like Australia. We all celebrate in different ways and at different times, and then, of course, there is the cultural appropriation that goes along with it. Why can't more Australians have colomba as part of their Easter ritual? It might be a well-needed break from all the chocolate. There is a constant positioning and repositioning relating to the 'brand' associated with religious holidays.
Yes, I'm calling it a brand, because chocolate eggs and the Easter bunny have no direct correlation with Jesus Christ's death or resurrection, and, similarly, Santa Claus has no real link to his birth, and let's be frank -- we all know it. We're not consuming chocolate eggs under any false pretenses here.
We could argue that eggs are a symbol of new life, of renewal and even of resurrection. After all, life spontaneously emerges from these seemingly inanimate objects. But we also very well know that Easter (and the symbols associated with it) are likely to have had a much more ancient genesis.
You might have caught the Facebook meme about Ishtar, and the true origin for Easter. Ishtar was an Assyrian and Babylonian goddess of fertility and sex whose symbols were the egg and bunny. After Constantine decided to Christianise the Roman empire (vast at that time), Ishtar was transformed into Easter and the old symbols associated with her (Ishtar's brand) were re-purposed.
Of course, we all love to get our historical information from a good Facebook meme these days -- however there are likely layers and layers of human history, religion, symbols and brands, which have come together to form the idea of Easter as we know it today.
Krystal D'Costa identifies some of these in her article in Scientific American, Beyond Ishtar: The tradition of eggs at Easter. From the ancient Egyptians to the Macedonians to the Hindus, there are multiple stratums to our Easter brand. She writes: "Ishtar may well have some connection to the rites of Spring, and admittedly Easter itself is an observance of Spring, but in an age when so much wrong has been done in the name of religion, and religion is a focal point for criticism and debate, it's worth remembering that the overlap of time and history has given us richer traditions than any of us can be aware of."
It's the latter part of this sentence that I'm particularly interested in, the overlapping of time and history and people which creates these potent signs and symbols. And we're living that overlapping at this very moment.
What my friends at the post office and the supermarket didn't realise was that they were very much part of anthropology in practice. In the sense that anthropology is the study of cultural differences and similarities in a globalised world. We were all witnessing culture, and the signs and symbols associated with it. Culture, an organic beast, is constantly in a state of shift and flux. From which Easter to celebrate, to what sort of cake should be eaten while celebrating, cultural morphology was occurring -- and I think that's pretty awesome.
And what does that mean for you and me, and our families in the future? Are we part of a schizoid culture? What will our future Easters or Easter equivalents look like when we're sitting around the family dining table?
What will the signs and symbols of those future events look like and who exactly will they be attributed to?